Almada the daily KO
What you need to know

Union transfer Paxten Aaronson to Eintracht Frankfurt

The Philadelphia Union have transferred homegrown midfielder Paxten Aaronson to Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. The Union did not release details of the transfer, but sources tell MLSsoccer.com the deal is worth $4 million plus add-ons, plus a "big" sell-on percentage.

Atlanta United's Almada joins Argentina as injury replacement

Thiago Almada is going to the 2022 FIFA World Cup with Argentina after all. Atlanta United's playmaker was called in as one of two emergency replacements by head coach Luis Scaloni after Nicolás González (Fiorentina) and Joaquín Correa (Inter Milan) both went down with injuries just days before the Albiceleste's Group C debut against Saudi Arabia on Nov. 22. Almada, who joined Atlanta this year from Vélez Sarsfield for a reported MLS-record transfer fee of $16 million, just recently broke into Argentina's senior team while posting 6g/12a in his debut season with the Five Stripes.

Djeffal headlines three selected in Stage One of the MLS Re-Entry Draft

Three players were selected in Stage One of the 2022 Re-Entry Draft on Thursday, as the offseason continues to roll on. Austin FC traded up to the top spot to select midfielder Sofiane Djeffal. D.C. United held the top spot and received $50k GAM in exchange for the player. Toronto FC selected goalkeeper Tomas Romero second, then the Vancouver Whitecaps selected defender Karifa Yao 12th. Djeffal, 23, was selected in the SuperDraft last year by D.C. United and appeared in 28 matches. He didn't have his contract option picked up for 2023.

DeLaGarza signs one-day contract to retire with LA Galaxy

Longtime MLS defender AJ DeLaGarza is calling it quits on his 14-year career, but not before returning to the club where it all began for him. The 35-year-old signed a one-day contract on Thursday with the LA Galaxy, his first-ever team and the organization where he spent arguably his finest seasons in the league. The 19th overall pick of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, DeLaGarza made his pro debut with the Galaxy that same year. It was the beginning of a successful eight-season run in California, where he played 250 games (238 starts) across all competitions, winning two Supporters' Shields as well as three MLS Cups.

Concacaf Champions League schedule released for Round of 16

The five MLS teams who qualified for the 2023 Concacaf Champions League – Austin FC, Orlando City SC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, LAFC and the Philadelphia Union – now know when and where they'll play their Round of 16 opponents once the tournament kicks off in March. Take a look at the schedule here.

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Small-sided: Argentina, midfielder laboratories and a chance at a repeat

Welcome back to small-sided, the section where we take a quick look at what’s happening around the league. Do you get it? Small-sided like the tiny version of soccer but it sounds like “small-sighted” which is pretty close to the more commonly used “short-sighted?” Anyway, that’s not what’s most important today. What’s most important today is that MLS got another World Cup player, the Union sent another Aaronson abroad, and we know the round of 16 schedule for CCL.

1
Almada has a chance to do what no MLS player has done

Thiago Almada is heading to the 2022 World Cup. It’s a heckuva resume builder. Not only for him, but for the league as well. A Young Designated Player will have a legitimate chance to win the World Cup. And as Tutul Rahman pointed out on Twitter before it shut down and we never saw it again (probably), only two players in history have won the World Cup while playing outside of the Big Five European leagues or their own domestic league. Almada's call-up is a little more proof of concept for anyone wondering if a stint in MLS might be able to affect their international prospects for the better.

It’s also another step toward Atlanta United recouping their initial transfer fee and beyond. Not that teams around the world necessarily needed the World Cup to put Almada on their radar, but it’s not something that will hurt his status as one of the world’s premier young prospects. The Five Stripes probably picked up a little more cash with this announcement.

They also probably began to steel themselves a little more for what feels like an imminent departure this offseason. Almada always felt like a short-term buy for a number of reasons. Now he might be moving onto Europe after an even shorter time than some would have expected. However, you have to figure a 21-year-old making Argentina’s World Cup squad in any circumstances will be pulling in some serious cash. Is there a chance Almada, brought into Atlanta for a reported $16 million fee, will challenge Miguel Almiron’s reported MLS record fee of $27 million?

2
The Union can keep getting away with it

Another year, another outstanding young Union prospect going abroad. This time it just happens to be another midfielder and another Aaronson. It’s exciting to see and Paxten almost certainly has big things ahead. But it’s also probably important to take another moment and appreciate how casual this all is now. Not only for the league but for the Union.

This is as natural an occurrence in any offseason as people being baffled by the difference between the two stages of the re-entry draft. The Union keep churning out clones from the Philadelphia Midfielder Laboratory buried deep under Subaru Park and the league keeps sending young players to Europe. I mean, even just a few years ago, a $4 million deal to the Bundesliga would have sent shockwaves around MLS. Now, it’s a relatively typical moment. Especially considering where the player is coming from.

It’s wild that Aaronson is so clearly good enough to earn a deal like this and he didn’t even get the most minutes out of Philadelphia’s young midfielders. That honor went to 19-year-old Jack McGlynn. And neither of them earned the most minutes of Philly’s young homegrown players. That honor went to 21-year-old fullback Nathan Harriel. And technically, the thing about McGlynn getting the most minutes of Philly’s young midfielders isn’t even true unless you’re counting homegrowns because I forgot that Leon Flach is somehow only 21 years old.

The Union are absurd and there are probably like 10 more midfielders set to step in and take Aaronson’s place. Heck, I bet like half of them are actually named Aaronson. It’s a midfielder laboratory, not an institute for coming up with varied last names.

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3
We have the Champions League schedule

We’re still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about CCL. And now that we have the full bracket and Round of 16 schedule, I want to say it’s officially time to start talking about MLS’s chances at winning this thing. Again.

Look, to be honest, there are only a couple of teams in this group of five MLS teams that feel like they can do it. Last year it felt like there were more varied options, but in the end the team everyone expected to pull it off pulled it off. This year, it feels like it’s going to come down to LAFC and Philadelphia. And, like Seattle and NYCFC last season, it might come down to a semifinal between the two MLS sides.

At least, it could set up that way. There’s just one Liga MX team on their side of the bracket. If the Union can knock off Atlas (totally plausible), then they’d likely see LAFC in the semifinal with a Liga MX side waiting for them in the final. And, like last year, it will probably feel pretty winnable for whichever MLS team gets there.

Just something to keep in mind until things get rolling a few months from now.

Other Things

Charlotte FC sign 14-year-old Berchimas to homegrown contract: Charlotte FC have signed Academy product Nimfasha Berchimas to a homegrown contract through 2026 with an option for 2027. At 14 years and 268 days old, Berchimas is the sixth-youngest signing in Major League Soccer history.

St. Louis CITY SC sign midfielder Watts from MLS NEXT Pro affiliate: St. Louis CITY SC have signed midfielder Akil Watts to a first-team contract in a one-year deal with options for 2024, 2025 and 2026. The move elevates Watts from St. Louis' MLS NEXT Pro affiliate, St, Louis CITY2, to their first team.

FC Dallas acquire Mulato from Deportivo Cali: FC Dallas have announced the acquisition of 19-year-old Colombian forward José Mulato from Deportivo Cali. The South American teenager's contract goes into effect on Jan. 1 2023 and lasts through the 2025 season, with club options for 2026 and 2027. The Deportivo Academy product made his professional debut in the Colombian first division in early 2020 and spent the 2022 season on loan with FCD MLS NEXT Pro affiliate North Texas SC, tallying nine goals and three assists over 21 games.

Austin FC claim forward Ocampo-Chávez off waivers: Austin FC have claimed forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chávez off the MLS End-of-Year Waivers list. With this maneuver, the Verde & Black are now in a position to extend an offer to the 20-year-old Seattle Sounders homegrown. Should both sides fail to agree to terms on a contract, Austin retain the right of first refusal on the player.

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Good luck out there. Start early.